Family Meals with Teens: How to Simplify Family Meals, Keep Teens Engaged, and Build Healthy Family Habits
My family experienced an exciting milestone recently: My son can now drive.
While this is an exciting time for him, that also means that he is more independent. We all know that more freedom can be empowering but it can also lead to unhealthy choices as a result. In my son’s case, it means he and his friends can get PopTarts when they stop for gas, eat a package of Oreos for a snack after school, or even grab an ice cream on the way home. We lose that ability to have “mom control” over their choices when they get more independence and that often results in more nagging and more frequent reminders to “Make Good Choices!”. (We’ve all heard that from our parents before…) The nagging and constant reminders may help but one way we can still have a positive impact is to make sure to provide a family dinner meal that is real and nutritious.
Family meals have numerous benefits. Meals together as a family have been shown to help teens have higher academic performance in school, lower their risk of alcohol and drug use, reduce the likelihood of mental health issues such as depression, and can help teens to create their own healthy habits as they move into young adulthood. (1)
With busy schedules, multiple activities pulling families is different, often opposite, directions, and the increased independence that comes with teens growing up, family meals can easily get pushed to the back burner. How can we make this happen and make it a priority when we, as parents, already feel overwhelmed and stressed from our daily lives?
The key is to keep things simple and straightforward. Always have a few things on hand that can be turned into a quick dinner, limit screens at the table, and instill the importance of family meals to get everyone in your family on board. We can still put healthy meals on the table quickly, know that our kids are getting a nutritious meal at home, and build stronger relationships with our kids, all with the added benefit of promoting their overall well being.
Here are a few easy meal ideas that need only minimal of preparation:
Meatballs, Rice, and Roasted Cruciferous Veggies
Cauliflower Florets, Brussel Sprouts, or Broccoli Florets (Can be frozen and/or pre-cut)
Pre-cooked Chicken Meatballs
Cooked Rice (can be pre-cooked or frozen rice)
Salt and Pepper (To Taste)
Empty veggies of choice onto your oven tray. Drizzle and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Set to roast at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.
Add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom of your skillet. Heat skillet to medium-high heat. Once skillet is heated, add pre-packaged chicken meatballs (usually found near the hot dogs in your grocery store or in the freezer section) and minced garlic to the pan. Follow the instructions on the package and cook until browned and heated through.
When veggies and meatballs are almost done cooking, reheat rice in the microwave and set aside.
Once everything is done, have people make their own plates and have a few fun, healthy sauces on hand (i.e. salsa, guacamole, hot sauce, mustard, etc.) so everyone can customize their own plate.
Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwiches with Fruit Salad
Cheese of choice (one of our favorites is Cabot Cheddar)
Pre-cooked chicken bacon
Crack eggs into a bowl and whisk together to combine.Add salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. For egg sandwiches, shoot for 1-2 eggs per person.
Spray a large fry pan with cooking spray or use a bit of butter on medium heat. Once the pan is heated, add eggs to the pan, cook on medium or medium-low until desired done-ness.
Microwave the bacon according to directions on the package.
Toast the bread/english muffin/bagel of choice.
Then, the fun part: Assemble!
While the eggs are cooking, prepare a simple fruit salad with whatever you have on hand. Some favorites: sliced bananas, fresh raspberries, sliced peaches, grapes, blueberries, watermelon, or sliced strawberries. To make it a little sweeter, add a sprinkling of natural coconut or mini chocolate chips if desired.
Pro-Tip: Eggs are one of the best things to always have on hand! You can easily whip up breakfast for dinner, make hard boiled eggs to add to a salad, or even use them to make a quick kitchen sink fried rice at the end of the week!
Cutting Board Dinner
This is the ultimate in minimal planning and using up what is in the house! It’s a fun dinner that can be different every time based on what’s in the cabinet and fridge
Anything you have on hand!
Crackers, tortilla chips, rice cakes, fruit, veggies, cheese, cured meats, deli meat, nuts, pickles, olives, chocolate chips, guacamole, salsa, jam, mustard, etc. The possibilities are endless and ever-changing!
Grab your favorite large cutting board and a few smaller serving dishes (like small ramekins.)
Slice up cheese, cured meat, and deli meats and place on the cutting board.
Have a healthy cracker like Triscuits, Simple Mills, or Mary’s on hand and add those to the cutting board.
Put smaller items such as roasted nuts, pickles, olives, chocolate chips, or fruit in the ramekins.
Slice up whatever veggies you have (cucumbers, carrots, peppers, etc.) and add to the cutting board.
Add container(s) of dip such as salsa, hummus, guacamole, mustard, etc.
Add some fruit to the tray, such as sliced apples, grapes, or berries.
Place everything on the cutting board, get small plates for everyone, and gather around it at your table. Maybe play a quick card game while you eat, have everyone answer the same “Question of the Day,” or just chat about everyone’s day.
Smoothies (or Soup) and Toasted Cheese and Crackers
All of these items are things that most people usually have on hand. With these ingredients, it’s pretty easy to throw it all together for a healthy and delicious meal that’s also a bit unique.
Cheese of choice (cheddar, monterey jack, and mozzarella all melt well)
Healthy Crackers such as Triscuits, Simple Mills, Mary’s Crackers, etc.
Yogurt (Try Greek Yogurt or Skyr for less sugar and more protein)
Milk or Milk Alternative (Unsweetened Almond Milk, Coconut Water, Oat Milk, Regular Water)
Optional Additions for Smoothies: Nut Butter, Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds, Protein Powder, Spinach or Kale
Cans or Carton of vegetable soup such as tomato basil or butternut squash soup
Fill your toaster oven tray or a baking sheet with your crackers and place a small square of sharp cheddar cheese on each one. Bake until cheese is melted (aprx. 5-8 minutes)
Serve with smoothies, soup, or both. If serving soup: Heat up the carton of soup according to the instructions while the cheese is melting. If making smoothies: Put all ingredients into a blender, making sure there is enough liquid to cover the solid ingredients, and blend until smooth.
To get your kids involved, have them heat up the soup or add the ingredients to the blender while you work on the toasted cheese and crackers. Getting your kids in the kitchen is another great way to strengthen relationships and build healthy habits!
These are not the most glamorous of meals, but they get a healthy dinner on the table in minutes for your family. They not only reap the nutritional benefits, but the social and emotional benefits as well. Happy family eating!
Need help navigating your family meal time? Nutrition in Motion is always here to support your health journey! REMEMBER, VISITS WITH A REGISTERED DIETITIAN ARE COVERED BY MOST INSURANCE CARRIERS. ASK US A QUESTION OR REQUEST AN APPOINTMENT TO LEARN MORE!
Source: (1): https://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/parenting-issues/the-benefits-of-the- family-table
Maggie is a Registered Dietitian with over twenty years of nutrition experience helping clients identify and achieve their personal wellness goals.
She believes that everyone can find that right balance of food enjoyment and health for lasting results, and understands the need to find a common sense approach to nutrition for busy lifestyles.